Resources, Not Requirements: Grant Makers and the Culture of Philanthropy
By Marissa I. Guerrero
Last week, the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund released a report by Cynthia M. Gibson, “Beyond Fundraising: What Does It Mean to Build a Culture of Philanthropy?” The report provides critical guidance to nonprofits about why and how to develop a culture of philanthropy, in which fundraising is relational rather than transactional, involves all members of the organization, and is itself a valued contribution to mission work. Though Gibson is speaking primarily to nonprofits, her report prompted me to think about what the culture of philanthropy means for grant makers: how do we “bring more than just money to the table” in a way that is driven by grantee need and desire to engage.
For the past two years, I have co-chaired Horizons Young Professionals for Equality (HYPE), a community of more than 140 LGBT Bay Area young professionals who join together to build community, develop into LGBTQ leaders, and engage in philanthropy. At its core is a giving circle of 50 donors who contribute at least $300 annually and in turn have the opportunity to get involved in HYPE’s governance, fund development, grant making, and more. Participating in giving circles gives those who are passionate about philanthropy (or even just curious) an opportunity to work simultaneously as individual donors, fund raisers, and grant makers—a powerful way to learn firsthand about cultivating a culture of philanthropy.
Everywhere in Gibson’s discussion of young donors, I saw members of our community, who focus more on supporting causes than individual organizations, seek to give beyond the dollars they donate, and eschew the power dynamics inherent in much of philanthropy. In HYPE, they find peers who share their values and opportunities to donate their time, skills, and other resources to support our circle and its grantees.
HYPE has always been committed to giving beyond our grant making, but over the past few years, we’ve made an important shift in our approach to grantee engagement: from a funder-centered approach to a grantee-centered one. In the past, we asked potential grantees to propose how they would engage HYPE members, and those who received our grants were expected to host HYPE members for a site visit and provide the group with an opportunity to volunteer. Though this ensured that we had quality interactions with our grantees, it was driven by our needs, and not theirs.
Our motto now? Resources, not requirements. This year, we will learn early in the grant year about our grantees’ capacity-building needs, match those needs with the skills and talents of our members. Wherever we find resonance, we will then support our grantees with at least one substantive project, such as planning a social media campaign, revamping a website, or creating development strategies.
“Resources, not requirements” is more than just a shift in how we support our grantees; it’s a proposal to completely rethink the power dynamics inherent in relationships between funders and the organizations they support. In my dissertation research about developing empathy across lines of difference, I learned that one of the few ways to bridge power differentials is to work collaboratively with others, on the same side of the table. Inspired by that lesson, we’re trying something new this year: shared learning opportunities that bring together HYPE and its grantees to build capacity in an area of shared need. We hope and expect that such engagement will generate ideas to help move all of our work forward, as well as cultivate mutually-supportive, collaborative relationships.
Building a field-wide culture of philanthropy will require a change in perspective not only for nonprofits, but also for those committed to supporting them. We should approach our work with the goal of being a resource to our grantees, and require of them only what is absolutely necessary for our due diligence and future decision making. Small adjustments such as the ones HYPE is implementing have the potential to transform relationships in philanthropy, making them more equitable, collaborative, and rewarding for all.
Marissa Guerrero is co-chair of Horizons Young Professionals for Equality (HYPE) and associate director at Arabella Advisors, a philanthropic advising firm that works with individuals, families, and institutional foundations to strategically plan and implement their grant making and evaluate their impact.